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Amazon Commits $2 Billion for Affordable Housing Around US Hubs

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 7 January 2021

Amazon said it was committing $2 billion (roughly Rs. 14,620 crores) to help create more affordable housing in the area around its second headquarters near the US capital and other hubs of the tech and retail giant.

A new “housing equity fund” will make grants and below-market loans available for housing partners, public agencies, and minority-led organizations, according to Amazon, which has faced criticism over the impact of its new headquarters on housing.

The company said the first tranche of $567 million (roughly Rs. 4,100 crores) will help create 1,300 affordable apartment homes available near Amazon’s new Arlington, Virginia headquarters and up to 1,000 units near its headquarters in the Seattle, Washington, region.

Amazon expects to hire some 25,000 employees for its hub in Virginia, across the Potomac river from Washington, chosen after a stormy search process where communities debated the impact on the local economy and other factors.

Some of the new funds will also go to Nashville, Tennessee, another area where Amazon expects to add at least 5,000 employees in the coming years.

“Amazon has a long-standing commitment to helping people in need, including the Mary’s Place family shelter we built inside our Puget Sound headquarters,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and chief executive.

“This new $2 (roughly Rs. 14,620 crores) billion Housing Equity Fund will create or preserve 20,000 affordable homes in all three of our headquarters regions – Arlington, Puget Sound and Nashville. It will also help local families achieve long-term stability while building strong, inclusive communities.”

Amazon is targeting households making between 30 to 80 percent of median income. In the Washington DC metro area, this translates to a household of four earning less than $79,600 (roughly Rs. 58 lakhs) a year and below $95,250 (roughly Rs. 69 lakhs) in Seattle.

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Google’s Massive Data Centres in US Spark Worry Over Scarce Western Water

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By Associated Press | Updated: 23 October 2021

Now a critical part of modern computing, data centres help people stream movies on Netflix, conduct transactions on PayPal, post updates on Facebook, store trillions of photos and more. But a single facility can also churn through millions of gallons of water per day to keep hot-running equipment cool.

Google wants to build at least two more data centres in The Dalles, worrying some residents who fear there eventually won’t be enough water for everyone — including for area farms and fruit orchards, which are by far the biggest users.

Across the United States, there has been some mild pushback as tech companies build and expand data centres — conflicts likely to grow as water becomes a more precious resource amid the threat of climate change and as the demand for cloud computing grows. Some tech giants have been using cutting-edge research and development to find less impactful cooling methods, but there are those who say the companies can still do more to be environmentally sustainable.

The concerns are understandable in The Dalles, the seat of Wasco County, which is suffering extreme and exceptional drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. The region last summer endured its hottest days on record, reaching 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 Celsius) in The Dalles.

The Dalles is adjacent to the the mighty Columbia River, but the new data centres wouldn’t be able to use that water and instead would have to take water from rivers and groundwater that has gone through the city’s water treatment plant.

However, the snowpack in the nearby Cascade Range that feeds the aquifers varies wildly year-to-year and glaciers are melting. Most aquifers in north-central Oregon are declining, according to the US Geological Survey Groundwater Resources Program.

Adding to the unease: The 15,000 town residents don’t know how much water the proposed data centres will use, because Google calls it a trade secret. Even the town councillors, who are scheduled to vote on the proposal on November 8, had to wait until this week to find out.

Dave Anderson, public works director for The Dalles, said Google obtained the rights to 3.9 million gallons of water per day when it purchased land formerly home to an aluminium smelter. Google is requesting less water for the new data centres than that amount and would transfer those rights to the city, Anderson said.

“The city comes out ahead,” he said.

For its part, Google said it’s “committed to the long-term health of the county’s economy and natural resources.”

“We’re excited that we’re continuing conversations with local officials on an agreement that allows us to keep growing while also supporting the community,” Google said, adding that the expansion proposal includes a potential aquifer program to store water and increase supply during drier periods.

The US hosts 30 percent of the world’s data centres, more than any other country. Some data centres are trying to become more efficient in water consumption, for example by recycling the same water several times through a centre before discharging it. Google even uses treated sewage water, instead of using drinking water as many data centres do, to cool its facility in Douglas County, Georgia.

Facebook’s first data centre took advantage of the cold high-desert air in Prineville, Oregon, to chill its servers, and went a step further when it built a centre in Lulea, Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

Microsoft even placed a small data centre, enclosed in what looks like a giant cigar, on the seafloor off Scotland. After retrieving the barnacle-encrusted container last year after two years, company employees saw improvement in overall reliability because the servers weren’t subjected to temperature fluctuations and corrosion from oxygen and humidity. Team leader Ben Cutler said the experiment shows data centres can be kept cool without tapping freshwater resources.

A study published in May by researchers at Virginia Tech and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed one-fifth of data centres rely on water from moderately to highly stressed watersheds.

Tech companies typically consider tax breaks and availability of cheap electricity and land when placing data centres, said study co-author Landon Marston, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.

They need to consider water impacts more seriously, and put the facilities in regions where they can be better sustained, both for the good of the environment and their own bottom line, Marston said.

“It’s also a risk and resilience issue that data centres and their operators need to face, because the drought that we’re seeing in the West is expected to get worse,” Marston said.

About an hour’s drive east of The Dalles, Amazon is giving back some of the water its massive data centres use. Amazon’s sprawling campuses, spread between Boardman and Umatilla, Oregon, butt up against farmland, a cheese factory and neighbourhoods. Like many data centres, they use water primarily in summer, with the servers being air-cooled the rest of the year.

About two-thirds of the water Amazon uses evaporates. The rest is treated and sent to irrigation canals that feed crops and pastures.

Umatilla City Manager Dave Stockdale appreciates that farms and ranches are getting that water, since the main issue the city had as Amazon’s facilities grew was that the city water treatment plant couldn’t have handled the data centres’ discharge.

John DeVoe, executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon, which seeks reform of water laws to protect and restore rivers, criticised it as a “corporate feel good tactic.”

“Does it actually mitigate for any harm of the server farm’s actual use of water on other interests who may also be using the same source water, like the environment, fish and wildlife?” DeVoe said.

Adam Selipsky, CEO of Amazon Web Services, insists that Amazon feels a sense of responsibility for its impacts.

“We have intentionally been very conscious about water usage in any of these projects,” he said, adding that the centres brought economic activity and jobs to the region.

Dawn Rasmussen, who lives on the outskirts of The Dalles, worries that her town is making a mistake in negotiating with Google, likening it to David versus Goliath.

She’s seen the level of her well-water drop year after year and worries sooner or later there won’t be enough for everyone.

“At the end of the day, if there’s not enough water, who’s going to win?” she asked.

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Paytm Said to Have Secured SEBI’s Approval for India’s Biggest IPO

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By Press Trust of India | Updated: 23 October 2021

Digital financial services firm Paytm has received market regulator SEBI’s approval for its Rs 16,600 crores initial public offer, a source involved in the process said on Friday. The company expects to hit the bourses by the end of this month and is planning to skip the pre-IPO share sale rounds to fast-track listing.

“SEBI has given approval for Paytm IPO,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

The company’s plan of shelving the pre-IPO raise is not related to any valuation differences, the source added.

The proposed IPO, if successful, would be the largest such offer. Coal India’s Rs 15,200-crores initial public offer (IPO) in 2010 is the country’s largest one till date.

Paytm is looking at a valuation of Rs 1.47-1.78 lakh crores.

US-based valuation expert Aswath Damodaran, who is a professor specialising in finance at the Stern School of Business at New York University, has valued the unlisted shares of the firm at Rs 2,950 apiece.

The proposed IPO, if successful, would be the largest such offer. Coal India’s Rs 15,200-crores initial public offer (IPO) in 2010 is the country’s largest one till date.

Paytm is looking at a valuation of Rs 1.47-1.78 lakh crores.

US-based valuation expert Aswath Damodaran, who is a professor specialising in finance at the Stern School of Business at New York University, has valued the unlisted shares of the firm at Rs 2,950 apiece.

According to the draft IPO documents, the company plans to raise Rs 8,300 crores through fresh issue of equity shares and another Rs 8,300 crores through the offer-for-sale route.

Paytm founder, managing director and chief executive Vijay Shekhar Sharma and Alibaba Group firms will dilute some of their stake in the proposed offer-for-sale.

Alibaba group firm Antfin (Netherlands) Holding BV is expected to sell at least 5 percent stake to bring its shareholding below 25 percent to comply with regulatory requirements, according to a source.

As per the documents, investors selling stake include Antfin (Netherlands) Holding BV (which has a 29.6 percent stake), Alibaba.com Singapore E-Commerce (7.2 percent) and Elevation Capital V FII Holdings (0.7 percent).

Moreover, Elevation Capital V (which has a 0.6 percent stake), SAIF III Mauritius Company (12.1 percent), SAIF Partners India IV (5.1 percent), SVF Panther (Cayman) (1.3 percent) and BH International Holdings (2.8 percent) will also sell stake.

The company has proposed to use Rs 4,300 crores for growing and strengthening the Paytm ecosystem, including through acquisition of consumers and merchants and providing them with greater access to technology and financial services.

Paytm plans to earmark Rs 2,000 crores for business initiatives, acquisitions and strategic partnerships and up to 25 percent of the total fund raised through the IPO for general corporate purposes.

According to the documents, Paytm’s merchant base grew to 2.11 crores as on March 31, 2021 from 1.12 crores in March 2019, and gross merchandise value (GMV) almost doubled to over Rs 4 lakh crores in the financial year (FY) from Rs 2.29 lakh crores in FY 2019.

The company has reported a narrowing of its loss to Rs 1,704 crores in FY21, from Rs 2,943.3 crore in FY20 and Rs 4,235.5 crores in FY19.

Total income declined to Rs 3,186.8 crores in FY21, from Rs 3,540.7 crores in FY20.

Paytm has reported negative cash flow of Rs 222.1 crores in FY21 primarily due to operating losses and additional working capital requirement.

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Google May Face Fine of Up to 20 Percent of Annual Turnover in Russia Over Failing to Delete Illegal Content

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By Reuters | Updated: 19 October 2021

Russia said on Tuesday it would this month seek to fine US tech giant Google a percentage of its annual Russian turnover for repeatedly failing to delete content deemed illegal, Moscow’s strongest effort yet to rein in foreign tech firms. Communications regulator Roskomnadzor said Google had failed to pay RUB 32.5 million (roughly Rs. 3.4 crores) in penalties levied so far this year and that it would now seek a fine of 5-20 percent of Google’s Russian turnover, which could reach as much as $240 million (roughly Rs. 1,800 crores), a significant increase.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Russia has ramped up pressure on foreign tech companies as it seeks to assert greater control over the Internet in the country, slowing down the speed of Twitter since March and routinely fining others for content violations.

Opposition activists have accused Alphabet’s Google and Apple of caving to Kremlin pressure after they removed an anti-government tactical voting app from their stores.

Roskomnadzor earlier in October said it would ask a court to impose a turnover fine on social media firm Facebook, citing legislation signed by President Vladimir Putin in December 2020.

“A similar case will be put together in October against Google,” Roskomnadzor said in emailed comments to Reuters on Tuesday, noting that the company also owned video-hosting site YouTube.

The SPARK business database showed that Google’s turnover in Russia in 2020 was RUB 85.5 billion (roughly Rs. 9,050 crores). A 5-20 percentfine would amount to between RUB 4.3 billion (roughly Rs. 455 crores) and RUB 17.1 billion (roughly Rs. 1,810 crores).

Google is currently fighting a court ruling demanding it unblock the YouTube account of a sanctioned Russian businessman or face a compounding fine on its overall turnover that would double every week and force Google out of business within months if paid.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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SolarWinds Hackers Said to Have Stolen Sensitive US Data on Russia Sanctions, Intelligence Probes

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By Reuters | Updated: 8 October 2021

The suspected Russian hackers who used SolarWinds and Microsoft software to burrow into US federal agencies emerged with information about counter-intelligence investigations, policy on sanctioning Russian individuals and the country’s response to COVID-19, people involved in the investigation told Reuters.

The hacks were widely publicised after their discovery late last year, and American officials have blamed Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service, which denies the activity. But little has been disclosed about the spies’ aims and successes.

The reluctance of some publicly traded companies to explain their exposure has prompted a broad Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry.

The campaign alarmed officials with its stealth and careful staging. The hackers burrowed into the code production process at SolarWinds, which makes widely used software for managing networks.

The group also took advantage of weaknesses in Microsoft’s methods for identifying users in Office 365, breaching some targets that used Microsoft software but not SolarWinds.

It has been previously reported that the hackers breached unclassified Justice Department networks and read emails at the departments of treasury, commerce and homeland security. Nine federal agencies were breached. The hackers also stole digital certificates used to convince computers that software is authorised to run on them and source code from Microsoft and other tech companies.

One of the people involved said that the exposure of counter-intelligence matters being pursued against Russia was the worst of the losses.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

A White House official said that President Joe Biden has issued orders improving federal agency security, among other things requiring more multifactor-authentication and more monitoring of workplace devices.

In an annual threat-review paper released on Thursday, Microsoft said the Russian spies were ultimately looking for government material on sanctions and other Russia-related policies, along with US methods for catching Russian hackers.

Cristin Goodwin, general manager of Microsoft’s Digital Security Unit, said the company drew its conclusions from the types of customers and accounts it saw being targeted. In such cases, she told Reuters, “You can infer the operational aims from that.”

Others who worked on the government’s investigation went further, saying they could see the terms that the Russians used in their searches of US digital files, including “sanctions.”

Chris Krebs, the former head of US cyber-defense agency CISA and now an adviser to SolarWinds and other companies, said the combined descriptions of the attackers’ goals were logical.

“If I’m a threat actor in an environment, I’ve got a clear set of objectives. First, I want to get valuable intelligence on government decision-making. Sanctions policy makes a ton of sense,” Krebs said.

The second thing is to learn how the target responds to attacks, or “counter-incident response,” he said: “I want to know what they know about me so I can improve my tradecraft and avoid detection.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Google, YouTube to Stop Serving Advertisements Next to Climate Change Misinformation

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 8 October 2021

Google on Thursday said it will no longer post advertisements next to misinformation about climate change on its search engine or on global video-sharing platform YouTube. The new policy for Google advertisers, publishers, and YouTube creators will prohibit the platforms from helping people make money from content that “contradicts well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change.”

That includes online content referring to climate change as a hoax or a scam, or denying the world’s temperature is rising and that human activity is contributing to the problem, Google said in a post.

“Advertisers simply don’t want their advertisements to appear next to this content,” Google said.

“And publishers and creators don’t want advertisements promoting these claims to appear on their pages or videos.”

The Internet giant added that the policy change aligns with efforts by the company to promote sustainable practices and confront climate change.

“Google’s important decision to demonetise climate misinformation could turn the tide on the climate denial economy,” said NGO Avaaz campaign director Fadi Quran.

“For years, climate misinformers have confused public opinion and obstructed urgent political action on climate change, and YouTube has been one of their weapons of choice.”

Quran urged other online platforms to follow Google’s lead and stop funneling money to those peddling debunked denials of climate change.

Social networking colossus Facebook, which is Google’s biggest competitor in the digital advertising market, touts efforts to curb climate misinformation at its platform but has no such advertisement ban in place.

Social media platforms are regularly accused of promoting content that provokes strong emotional responses in order to keep users engaged so the platforms can make more money made from advertisements, even if the content can cause harm.

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Google Says It Used AI to Reduce Traffic Delays, Fuel Use in Israel; Plans to Test in Rio De Janeiro

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By Reuters | Updated: 6 October 2021

Alphabet’s Google cut fuel use and traffic delays by 10 percent to 20 percent at four locations in Israel by using artificial intelligence to optimize signal lights and it next plans to test the software in Rio de Janeiro, the company said on Wednesday.

The early-phase research project is among new software initiatives inside [Google] to combat climate change. Some employees as well as advocacy groups have called on the company, the world’s third-most valuable, to more urgently use its influence to combat the crisis.

While Google has not addressed critics’ calls to stop selling technology to oil companies or funding lawmakers who deny global warming, it has prioritized sustainability features.

Google plans in the coming weeks to allow its Nest thermostat users to buy renewable energy credits for $10 (roughly Rs. 750) a month to offset emissions from heating and cooling. Credits will come from projects in Texas including Bethel Wind Farm and Roseland Solar. A majority of the funds will go toward credit purchases and utility-bill payment costs, Google said, without elaborating on the remainder.

For no charge across the United States, Nest users soon can automatically shift heating and cooling to times when energy is cleaner.

New informational panels alongside search results show emissions or other environmental ratings of flights globally and cars and home appliances in the United States. To stem misinformation, English, Spanish and French queries mentioning “climate change” starting this month will feature explanations from the United Nations.

Based on early results in Israel’s Haifa and Beer-Sheva, Rio de Janeiro’s municipal traffic authority expressed high hopes for the AI to better time traffic signal changes. It told Reuters the system should be introduced within months with locations announced soon.

Aleksandar Stevanovic, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of Pittsburgh, said simulations show AI could smooth traffic flow. But he questioned whether a tech company without traffic engineering expertise ultimately could bring such software to reality.

“Every year there is someone new claiming we can do wonders,” he said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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